Transatlantic Train: The Untold Story of the Boston Merchant Who Launched Donald McKay to Fame
Enoch Train rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most important maritime figures in nineteenth-century Boston: owner of the city’s most successful transatlantic shipping line, and chief patron of its legendary shipbuilder, Donald McKay. In telling Enoch’s story, Transatlantic Train also provides fascinating insights into many of the era’s defining themes and events: The fierce rivalries between the United States and Britain, New York and Boston, sail and steam. The catastrophic Great Famine in Ireland (during which President John F. Kennedy's great-grandfather arrived in Boston on one of Train's ships built for him by McKay). The California Gold Rush. The fabled clipper ships. The rising tensions between North and South over slavery. And the perils of sailing the stormy Atlantic. Weaving these subjects seamlessly into an absorbing narrative, Transatlantic Train becomes much more than the remarkable tale of a poor orphan from a country village who somehow rose to the top of Boston’s maritime community. It also serves as a guide to many of the currents and crosswinds that set Boston and the United States on course to become the city and nation they are today.
Vincent J. Miles grew up in Liverpool, England, but has lived in the US for close to forty years, twenty-five of them in the Boston area. He has written three books that connect these places in very different ways. The first describes the seven years he spent in Liverpool's Catholic minor seminary as a boy, and explores the connection between the Church's seminary system and the sexual abuse scandals that exploded in Boston in 2002. The second tells the story of a nineteenth-century sea captain from Massachusetts who became famous for (among other things) voyages he made to and from Liverpool, and whose career exemplifies many important aspects of US maritime history. And the third is the first-ever biography of a nineteenth-century Boston merchant who operated the most successful line of sailing ships between Boston and Liverpool, and played a pivotal role in the career of legendary shipbuilder Donald McKay.
"Boys of the Cloth" is the book that describes Miles' experience in Liverpool's Catholic minor seminary, which he entered at the age of eleven to train for the priesthood, and where he spent much of his adolescence during the 1960s. As he explains in the book's Preface, "While many of our contemporaries were participating in the biggest generational rebellion in history, my classmates and I were quietly and obediently conforming to tradition, praying and studying in splendid isolation. And doing so just a few miles outside Liverpool, whose most famous sons were driving the revolution in popular culture that was a cornerstone of the great rebellion." Seven years of seminary life were enough to convince him, however, that the priesthood was not for him, and at the age of eighteen he embarked on a radically different career, initially training as a biochemist and molecular biologist, and ultimately becoming a biotechnology executive and venture capitalist. The analytical training he received along the way plays a significant role in "Boys of the Cloth," as he draws on his seminary experience and other important sources to explore the underlying causes of sexually abusive behavior by priests. The contrarian conclusions he eventually reaches are reflected in book's subtitle: "The Accidental Role of Church Reforms in Causing and Curbing Abuse by Priests."
Miles' second book could hardly be more different, focusing as it does on Captain Asa Eldridge, a distinguished nineteenth-century sea captain from Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod. His career included many highlights: voyaging to more than a dozen countries; setting new records (one of which has never been beaten); commanding packet ships, a clipper ship and steamships; taking Cornelius Vanderbilt and his family around Europe as skipper of the tycoon's private steam-yacht; and so on. Sadly, it also included tragedy, a mysterious end that had elements in common with the Titanic disaster decades later. Hence the book's title, "The Lost Hero of Cape Cod." The book does more, however, than simply recount the various phases of Eldridge's career; it uses them as a framework to explore the crucial role of America's merchant marine in the country's social and economic development in the decades following the War of 1812. Hence the book's subtitle: "Captain Asa Eldridge and the Maritime Trade That Shaped America."
Miles' most recent book is a biography of Enoch Train, who grew up as an orphan two days' travel from the sea but somehow became on the most important maritime figures in nineteenth-century Boston -- and along the way, jump-started the career of Donald McKay by providing him the funding to start his own shipyard and then becoming his biggest customer. Train is now largely forgotten but in his day was also a prominent figure: the owner of Boston’s most successful transatlantic shipping line, noted for transporting large numbers of poor European immigrants to the city (including the great-grandfather of a future President, although that could not have been known at the time); a director of multiple financial institutions; an elected city councilor and state representative; an active member of the Whig Party, close to one of its luminaries, Daniel Webster; and the leader of a group that funded Webster to argue an important maritime case before the US Supreme